The Rev. Peter M. Carey
Christmas Eve Sermon
24 December 2017
May Almighty God, who sent his Son to take our nature upon him, bless you in this holy season, scatter the darkness of sin, and brighten your heart with the light of his holiness. Amen.
May God, who sent his angels to proclaim the glad news of the Savior’s birth, fill you with joy, and make you heralds of the Gospel. Amen.
May God, who in the Word made flesh joined heaven to earth and earth to heaven, give you his peace and favor. Amen.
The scene painted in our minds eye depicted by St. Luke is a powerful one. The scene we have imagined many times on this blessed evening as we recount the story of Jesus birth. In the midst of an occupied land, with the threat of Imperial power, a mother and a father bring a baby into the world, a vulnerable trio in the midst of this place. Not in an Inn, but rather out in the manger, the shed, the barn, instead of nurses or doctors or midwives or doulas, they are surrounded by animals. Of course the visitors who arrive are equally unlikely, shepherds from the fields with their sheep, and a retinue of the heavenly host of angels, and finally, most improbably they receive visitors from the East. An incredible and shocking scene. The hope for the world swaddled in bands of cloth in a barn, in the midst of the troubles and challenges of the world - in the midst of this place - JOY - in the midst of this time - HOPE - in the midst of these visitors - LOVE.
The first creche was created by St. Francis of Assisi, who thought that this would be a wonderful way to retell the story of the Birth of Jesus, and also help people to see and experience the story in a real and tangible way. The goal was not to highlight mere sentimentality, but rather to make clear the reality of the Incarnation, the real way that God became human, and that this incarnation was not a one-time moment, but because of the nativity of Jesus, and his presence among us, the incarnation is a present reality for all time.
We sing, “Love came down at Christmas”, and this love was not merely for those who witnessed the birth of Jesus those two thousand years ago, but also for us here today, and everyday. God’s love was so full, so powerful, so overflowing that the love poured out here among us. While Francis is often solely remembered for his love of animals, he was deeply orthodox and grounded in his understanding of the incarnation, of Emmanuel, “God with us.”
As we consider the Incarnation on this rich and holy night, we might also adopt the mind of Mary, who “pondered these things in her heart.” These profound and wonderful words give us a model of response to the events surrounding Jesus birth. Ponder them, consider them, pray on them, hold them gently, allow your heart to enter into the overflowing love of God, sit with this moment, and ponder it.
The first creche must have been an amazing thing to experience, can you imagine the good folks of Assisi happening upon this birth scene of Jesus, and not merely as a painting on a church wall, but in tangible, three-dimensional form. Happening upon the nativity scene in the crowded streets of Assisi must have been shocking and surprising, not unlike the birth of Jesus itself.
If you have ever visited a life-size nativity scene, or if you have ever played a role in a Christmas Pageant, you might have experienced the powerful sense of this story. I, myself, have played several roles in Christmas Pageants over the years. Beginning as a donkey with a smelly papier-mache mask over my head, I was terrified that I would make a mistake - and, I believe it was my first time being up in front of people in church. Through the years, I was a shepherd, a magi, Joseph, and finally a narrator, the voice of Luke, telling the story from the lectern as it came to life in that church nave. How about you, where do you imagine yourself in the scene?
Not merely seeing the scene on a screen or on the wall of a church, but experiencing the scene in such a way that there might be a place for you in the manger. Where might you be standing? Perhaps a lowly animal, though humble, still very nearby the baby. There is room for you there.
Perhaps a visiting shepherd, straight from work, dirty, hungry, smelly, and yet, there is room for you as well.
Perhaps a guest at the inn, leaving the inn for a walk, and hearing noises, you walk around back where you see a most amazing sight, animals, shepherds, a man, a woman, a baby in a manger. What is this? There is room for you, too.
Perhaps you are from far away, and you are a person of science, of facts, not faith, of observation, not imagination. But here you are, incredibly. There is room for you. There is room for all of us, and, amazingly, even though there is room for us, there is room for us to welcome more. We each have a front seat in the theater, a courtside seat to see the event, there is a prime seat for you, and there are seats for us all. We sit, we experience the Joy, the Hope, the Love, which has come alive. There is room for all to sit and ponder. There are no turf wars while pondering. There is no resentment over who sits where. There is no jealousy but only welcome and hospitality. We may pray, “Where two or three are gathered in his name, he will be in the midst of us,” but in the midst of the Lord, there is room for all. As we ponder, as we worship, we are one with one another. In the light of the Love of God we are enlivened by one another, we are made whole through one another while Christ is among us, and within us.
Grant, O God, that your holy and life-giving Spirit may so move every human heart, that barriers which divide us may crumble, suspicions disappear, and hatreds cease; that our divisions being healed, we may live in justice and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.